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Colorado out of running for higher ed grant

Colorado has failed to make the cut for a share of $9 million from the Lumina Foundation for Education, money intended to help states improve the productivity of their higher education systems.

Indianapolis-based Lumina, a major funder of higher ed reform initiatives, announced grants to Arizona, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas as part of its Making Opportunity Affordable program. Those awards ranged from about $830,000 to $1.8 million over four years.

Those states, plus Colorado, California, Mississippi and Wisconsin, each received $150,000 planning grants in late 2008 to prepare for the larger competition.

John Karakoulakis, a Department of Higher Education spokesman, said the agency had no specific comment on Lumina’s decision except to congratulate the winning states. He did say that failure to win the grant shouldn’t affect the department’s delayed effort to launch a strategic planning process for the state’s struggling higher education system. “We’re moving forward.”

David Skaggs, then director of DHA, outlined a suggested planning process to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in July. Among other things, Skaggs wrote that Colorado “is positioned well to compete for one of the five $2 million, four-year MOA [Making Opportunity Affordable] continuation grants. The proposed comprehensive planning effort would both add value to, and benefit from, the state’s participation in the MOA initiative.”

Skaggs, however, on Aug. 28 announced his resignation, citing unspecified differences with Gov. Bill Ritter. Those differences are believed to involve the strategic planning process, which was supposed to have kicked off with a Sept. 21 conference. That was cancelled three days after Skaggs said he was leaving.

Ritter on Oct. 14 named Rico Munn to succeed Skaggs. Munn was already in the cabinet as director of regulatory agencies and is a former member of the State Board of Education.

Karakoulakis said Tuesday the department could announce a kickoff and schedule for the strategic planning process as early as next week.

The strategic planning process will be conducted in a year already crowded with tough policy decisions and overshadowed by the 2010 election.

The legislature next year faces the necessity of making major budget cuts and shifts, including replacing $226 million of state funding for higher education with federal stimulus funds in the 2009-10 budget and then replenishing state support to at least $555 million for 2010-11.

Lawmakers also are expected to debate proposals to give colleges and universities greater flexibility in how they manage their budgets, although Ritter has said he doesn’t support giving higher ed boards the power to set tuition, something many boards would like to have. The governor believes a major issue like tuition policy should be considered first during the strategic planning process. (In the meantime, the administration has proposed another 9 percent tuition increase for the 2010-11 academic year.)

If the higher ed planning process lasts until the autumn of 2010, as originally envisioned, that means its recommendations wouldn’t be ready until the 2011 legislature convenes and Ritter starts his second term – if he’s re-elected.

Ritter’s likely opponent next year is former GOP Congressman Scott McInnis in what’s expected to be a tough campaign.

Lumina’s Making Opportunity Affordable program is designed to help states improve college attendance and completion within existing resources. The grants are intended to help states find ways to tie funding to the number of graduates rather than just to enrollment, increase efficiency and cost savings and to educate students in affordable and innovative ways.

“This round of grants represents Lumina’s next steps in advancing a national agenda for raising the level of productivity within higher education,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, Lumina president and CEO.

More change at DHE

Julie Carnahan, DHE chief academic officer, has resigned effective Dec. 4. She’s been with the agency since 2003 and previously was chief information officer and in charge of research. Most recently, Carnahan was the department’s point person in working with the Department of Education on initial implementation of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. Karakoulakis said the department is looking for a successor but has no specific timetable right now.

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